Back in November, Star Wars Battlefront II brought loot boxes into the limelight as EA and DICE waded through seemingly endless controversy. The battle against publishers and loot boxes is far from over as regulatory bodies have gotten involved, seeking to impose government restrictions on the industry. Belgium, the UK, PEGI, the ESRB, multiple gaming commissions, France, and the ESA, among a number of other entities have all gotten involved in the conversation. For those in the US, Hawaii did a lot more than just talk about it. They have now introduced four bills that would draw age restrictions and require publishers to disclose the odds present in loot box purchases.
House Bill 2686 and Senate Bill 3024 would prohibit the sale of any game that features a system where players can purchase a random reward using real money to anyone under the age of 21. For context, age restrictions on M-rated games and R-rated movies are not currently legally enforceable. Both are industry mandated restrictions set up by regulatory bodies within their respective industries (the ESRB and the MPAA), but an individual doesn’t face legal punishment for being underage and buying, viewing, or playing R and M-rated content.
House Bill 2727 and Senate Bill 3025 would require developers and publishers to prominently label games containing randomized purchase systems and disclose odds and probability of getting any particular item through that system. This pair of bills is the one that is far more likely to have success. You can bet that industry representatives, publishers, and their legal teams are getting ready to fight against the proposed legislation. The water is particularly muddy on the age restriction bills, as (most) loot boxes don’t have a monetary end reward (all value is determined purely in-game) and there are a number of arguments to be made about video games’ first amendment rights as works of art that could shut down attempts to impose legally binding restrictions on their sale.
Whatever the result of these bills, they are sure to have a far reaching impact across the industry, setting precedents for the likes of mobile titles that rely on microtransactions and loot box mechanics, and full featured console games that employ loot box strategies. Don’t expect the verdict anytime soon though. The process of creating, ratifying, amending, resubmitting, and finally getting a bill signed into law is a long one, and chances are numerous things could change within that time. The above proposed legislation is also only for the state of Hawaii, however, their success could become a precedent for other state laws or even federal regulation governing video game and loot box purchases in the United States.